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Tips to Make Sure the “Happiest Place on Earth” is Happy!

Goofy with KidsWhen my oldest son, Matt, was four years old, he asked to go to Disneyland. I told him that I’d take him when he was seven. After all, that was three years away, right? Piece of cake!

Matt turned seven in May and I was faced with a dilemma.

How was I, as a newly single mom, going to keep my promise to my incredibly patient (he’s been waiting three years for this!) little, big boy? Should I go? Should I postpone the trip? After a lot of thought, I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I decided that I was going to do it.

So, I did what any mom would do. I started to research. And research. And research. What I found was a whole lot of information seemingly designed for traditional families (two parents, two point two children, a dog, and a white picket fence), and not very many tips for single parents who wanted to embark on this adventure. The happiest place on earth could easily become the unhappiest place on earth for me and my boys unless I did some proper, early, and extra planning.

We went to Disneyland earlier this month, and I’m happy to report that the trip was a huge success! Follow the tips below (specially designed for single parents), and yours can be too.

Find a partner(s) in crime: Who would not want to go to the happiest place on earth? You’d be surprised. Asking someone, even a family member, to go to Disneyland with you is a lot to ask. It’s expensive, and if your family lives 3,000 miles away like mine does, it’s even more expensive because it starts with a long trek across the country. Planning your trip so it coincides with a family friend’s Disneyland trip is a good option for single parents, but I was unable to find friends who were going to Disneyland this year. Luckily, a few weeks before we were set to leave, a good friend agreed to tag along. In my opinion, finding a partner in crime is a must for single parents visiting Disneyland with more than one child, especially when the children are four years apart in age and have varying heights required for rides!

Spend the extra money and fly: Driving might make sense for two parent families or for one parent who has calm, easily-entertained children. My two boys are impatient and cannot sit still, but until the eleventh hour, I planned to drive. In the end, I decided to spend the extra money and purchase plane tickets to LAX. Nine hours turned into 90 minutes = the best money I’ve ever spent.

Determine which kid can ride what in advance: Disneyland.com has a feature where you can filter rides based on location, features, category, ages, and height. I filtered rides on this site based on my kids’ heights and then used RideMax (see the next tip!) to create a manageable schedule.

Buy this planning tool: When I told co-workers about the RideMax planning tool, several people told me that a schedule for Disneyland doesn’t sound fun or relaxing at all. But, buying a subscription for $15 and subsequently using RideMax to plan our day may have singlehandedly made our vacation a success. If I could pick one tip, this would be it. RideMax is a Disney planning tool that allows you to enter the attractions you want to ride, the time you want to break for meals and shows, and your touring speed. Once RideMax has determined your touring schedule, it displays the results in an easy-to-read plan that you can take to the park. This plan includes the recommended touring order for your attractions, including FASTPASS pickup and return times, along with estimated wait times for each attraction in your plan. It’s amazing, and our longest wait time was 18 minutes – only once, and during the busiest time of day! Most wait times were between four and eight minutes (in June!).

Download an app on your phone: There are several apps that at a touch of a button can tell you ride wait times, show times, and how to get from “a” to “b” via a Google type of map. I downloaded several of these two weeks in advance of our trip and checked them randomly in the days leading up to our trip so I knew how to use all of the features and so I could determine which app I liked best. MouseAddict gets good reviews, but I ended up using one called Disney Walkee the most.

Set expectations: Disney is expensive – did I mention that already? Because it’s expensive, it’s easy to think that you need to ‘get your money’s worth’. I had to set expectations – my expectations. Riding every ride, seeing every sight was not possible. So, I decided before we left that my only expectation was going to be to have fun. If a line was too long for my kids, or they didn’t want to ‘spin around and around’ we weren’t going to wait and we weren’t going to spin, no matter how popular the ride.

Eat! This is an easy one. Everyone knows that hungry kids melt down and when my kids melt down, I usually follow suit. To mitigate this risk at the happiest place on earth, I filled my backpack with healthy snacks like cashews with a few chocolate chips mixed in, Clif Bars (my kids love the iced oatmeal kind), baby carrots, apples, and peanut butter crackers. These snacks didn’t replace an occasional Disney ice cream cone, but it did help keep my kids full and helped keep my snack budget under control. Of course, plenty of bottled water was a must-have too!

Take lots of breaks (no, not for the kids, for you): There are lots of easy ways to take short breaks while at Disneyland, including eating a snack at a bench surrounded by brightly colored flowers, watching a short 25-minute character show, or slowly walking through and exploring one of several park-like areas. Our favorite was the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Tarzan’s Treehouse was also a big hit and a great place to rest.

My final and most important tip is to enjoy it. Enjoy every single moment and let each moment turn into a memory, and then find a home in your heart.

I’m sure there are many tips I’ve missed. What are your Disneyland vacation tips? 

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About Jennifer Woodbury Duval

Jennifer Woodbury Duval
A right coaster now living on the left, Jennifer Duval is a mom to two rambunctious boys, and works full-time in the communications department at a Fortune 500 company. Fueled by logic, she is a no-nonsense type of gal who doesn’t buy into the latest trends, but does like to try new, trendy restaurants. An avid reader, she also loves coffee, chocolate, Zumba, and discovering new places.

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